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The value of communities in software

The computing industry has spawned many communities which have an influence that spans across different online and offline sectors of society. These communities reach and bring together people from around the world with common interests and purposes. This stimulates productiveness in developing and using software. I would also argue that another effect these communities have in general is adding value to products, services, software and society at large which would be difficult to generate any other way.

I’m not a ‘business’ type of guy, nor am I a politician, but I recognise the importance of a community to software and society, even if I would struggle to foster one around a piece of software myself. Nearly all successful open source projects have a strong community, which often consists of a mixture of passionate individuals, businesses and partner organisations. There are a variety of methods that are used to organise and  communicate within these communities including online forums, project management software, wikis, mailing lists, emails, meetup/user groups and conferences. Sometimes small communities work well, and sometimes a large critical mass of participants is required for these communities to be productive. The organisation of software communities also varies, with some having a very hierarchical structure and others being quite ad-hoc and ‘flat’. Different approaches work for different software.

The important message I’m trying to deliver is that community really matters for a lot of software projects, and not just to boost the profile and success of the software itself. It does a lot for the industry in general to have diverse communities which can help to break down barriers and get people interacting together. It helps developers and users to avoid the feeling of being lost in the wilderness and feel they have peers, and hopefully friends, they can turn to for advice. I think it can make our industry a more friendly, pleasant one to be involved with. That is of course dependent on how approachable the community in question is.

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